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Market Research: Getting to Know the Competition

As part of the Ruby Porter onboarding process, we always have new clients to tell us a little bit about their competition. We ask them if there are things they would like to emulate about other businesses in their industry, or techniques they’ve seen other companies using that work. We also ask them if there is anything that they would shy away from, or even critique, when it comes to messaging or marketing approaches. We figure that at this point, the client knows their industry the best—but we don’t intend to keep it that way.

Market research is a necessary component for any digital marketing service we provide, whether that’s SEO, email marketing, social media management, or paid ad campaigns. In order for us to help you stand out in the crowd, we have to understand the crowd, and what they’re doing. We devote a substantial amount of time during the onboarding process to taking a look at your industry, the local market, and your local competition’s digital presence. We want to make sure we’re versed enough in terminology and jargon that we are able to spot trends as they develop, and get your business on the cutting edge of it.

We’re going to break down our process of market research to give you an inside look at what we do at Ruby Porter. While the bulk of our research is concentrated in the first three months of your campaign, keeping an eye on the market is an ongoing process, and spans multiple channels, including website and social media. Where to start? Your target audience.

Understanding the Audience

There are two steps to our process for understanding a target audience. First, we ask questions about the segments of the market that a business sells products or services for. For instance, some of our clients provide electrical or contracting services to residential customers, as well as bidding on commercial and industrial projects. In that sense, we need to understand how to prioritize marketing to these different segments, according the client’s business goals.

Next, we create buyer personas. These are fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customer, in which we imagine their age, gender identification, geographical location, job title and income, family size, hobbies, and challenges they face. Buyer personas help us to understand how to appeal to your audience, the messaging we design for your content, and the strategies we’ll use to reach them based on their habits and interaction with digital spaces.

In some situations, it is worthwhile to reach out to a small sub-section of the target audience and see if they’ll answer questions about the client and their product. For instance, if we were working with a client doing a brand-new product launch, a focus group made up of folks in the target audience would greatly contribute to this primary market research. Hubspot calls this primary research, while the rest of what we’ll discuss is secondary research.

Staying on Top of Trends

While there may be some industries out there that evolve less than others, the effect of technology impacts just about every corner of business, especially in digital marketing. (As we always say, a website is a digital storefront.) Therefore, if a company is just starting out, or if it’s been a few years since dollars have gone to marketing, it’s worthwhile to assess a number of industry-specific trends. We try to understand where and how the target audience encounters your products or services. We look at what currently influences purchases and conversions among the target audience. And, in the eyes of the buyer, we look at what’s trending in your industry; these trends are often related to energy efficiency, sustainability, or local sourcing. Because we work with many small and medium-sized businesses in our local area, it’s often an important part of messaging to include family-owned, community-minded and other ethical business practices. This is also where having a good foundation of knowledge about your industry is helpful—even the ability to know when you’ve run across a novel word or concept is important.

Identifying Competitors

The next step in the process is getting to know the competition. Other than simply asking the client who they consider their competitors, we also do keyword research to find relevant search terms, and then it’s on to good old fashioned Google searches (in an incognito browser, of course). We’ll start at the highest level by searching for industry category (think how you would categorize the business on Google My Business or Google Analytics), and review the local results. We look at both websites and social media presence—especially if we’re going to be managing social media.

After we identify the competitors, we more closely examine the competitors that your target audience looks to for information, options or updates. We take a look at which specific social media channels they use, their tone of voice and style of post, and what hashtags they’re using. Especially for Instagram social media clients, we do in-depth hashtag research by searching for those with large, medium, and small/local followings. Hootsuite recommends narrowing the list to three to five brands that have the closest fit to your target audience.

In addition to getting a sense for what messaging resounds with the target audience, we also look at what’s missing from the competition’s online presence. We look for a way to help fill a need or a niche in the client’s particular industry—perhaps there is a lack of “behind the scenes” content, or there is too much of one kind of post. We also look beyond messaging to the types of media the competition uses: video, IG TV, Facebook Live, Stories, or Tiktok (it’s happening!). Finally, we go back to the client and make sure we understand how they want us to approach their marketing; laying out all of our research findings helps them to make informed decisions about how they want to focus their own marketing.

Collaboration is Key

This final step is perhaps the most important. While it is true that our clients often know their competition the best, our experience as marketers may lead us to notice subtle approaches, or our tools may allow us to see certain behaviors that might confirm, or even contradict, certain ‘hunches’ business owners have about their target audience. Putting our heads together allows us to hatch a plan that everyone feels good about—one that will get results.

Ready to get to know your competition? Give us a shout!

Erin has degrees in Philosophy, Linguistics, and Instructional Design, and taught English to international students at the University of Oregon. Prior to joining Ruby Porter, she was Project Manager with a local nonprofit, helping connect high school students to career opportunities, including internships in the tech industry.

Erin loves writing, storytelling, presentations, building relationships, and thinking deeply about brand identity. She plays and coaches ultimate frisbee (Go Birds!), loves cooking, hiking and camping in the PNW, and is an aspiring Cat Lady.

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